Hamilton puts on clinic in Texas battle

Hamilton, Rangers put on clinic

ARLINGTON -- They played American League-style baseball at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday, and the Astros brought enough offensive firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Rangers.

They just didn't help themselves with five defensive errors and they just didn't have an answer for Josh Hamilton. Few people have. Not even Lance Berkman, who has been on an incredible tear of late, could keep up with Hamilton.

Hamilton crushed two of his team's six home runs, went 5-for-5 at the plate with 13 total bases, and drove in five runs to lead the Rangers to a 16-8 victory over the Astros in the opener of their Lone Star Interleague series. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Murphy, Chris Shelton and Michael Young also went deep.

The Rangers, with their 14th victory in their last 20 games, are back to within one game of .500, and have climbed to just two games behind second-place in the American League West.

"I said after our last game that I was looking forward to Houston coming in, because I wanted to see how we stacked up against them," manager Ron Washington said. "We did pretty good. They were pretty hot but we didn't back down. It's just one game, we'll see what happens tomorrow."

It was one game -- but a memorable one for Hamilton.

"This was a great night," Hamilton said. "That's why you play the game. It doesn't happen all the time, it's like the terrible golfer who gets the hole-in-one, and keeps you coming back. It was an awesome night."

Hamilton's 13 total bases, which also included two singles and a triple, were tied with Juan Gonzalez for the second most in one game in club history. Jose Canseco had 14 on June 13, 1994 against the Mariners. Hamilton had a shot at the cycle with his sixth plate appearance in the eighth inning, but drew a walk instead. He ended up scoring his fourth run.

The five hits and the five RBIs were career highs, and Hamilton now has 49 RBIs in the Rangers' first 43 games. Gonzalez had 50 RBIs in the Rangers' first 43 games in 1998. That was the season Gonzalez had 101 RBIs at the All-Star break, and finished with a club-record 157 for the season. Hamilton leads the Majors in RBIs, six more than Berkman.

"He's incredible, obviously," Murphy said. "You pretty much saw everything he can do tonight. He's just ... I don't think it's a stretch to say he's one of the best players in the game. His tools, his talent, are incredible. The scary thing is he seems to be getting better every day."

Hamilton had the best night and he also had the most spectacular home run, out-distancing Saltalamacchia in a serious fourth-inning driving competition.

The Rangers, with Hamilton hitting his first home run in the third, led 4-2 going into the fourth against Astros starter Shawn Chacon. Saltalamacchia stepped up to the plate first and crushed a 1-0 pitch 440-feet to straightaway right field. The ball soared over seven rows in the upper deck porch.

It was one of the longest home runs hit by the Rangers this season, but it wasn't the longest of the inning. Hamilton came up with two on and one out and crushed one off the front of the upper deck, but well over into right-center field. This one was measured at 451 feet.

"I told [hitting coach] Rudy Jaramillo I'm going to have to hit it a little farther or he's going to be bugging me all night," Hamilton said.

Hamilton's second home run gave the Rangers an 8-2 lead, and Sidney Ponson seemed to be well in control. But the Astros roared back, scoring five in the fifth inning off Ponson and one more in the sixth off Frank Francisco to tie the game up at 8.

The Astros just ran out of firepower at that point while the Rangers still had plenty left. They also had a little speed too. Ian Kinsler drew a two-out walk in the seventh off of left-hander Wesley Wright, then stole second. Young followed with a line-drive single to right and Kinsler just beat right fielder Hunter Pence's throw to the plate to give the Rangers the lead.

Astros manager Cecil Cooper was ejected from the game for disputing the call, but it only got worse for his team. Hamilton lined a triple into the right-field corner to score Young and give the Rangers a 10-8 lead.

"Ian got us going with the walk and the stolen base, and it got our momentum going," Hamilton said. "It kind of snowballed from there."

Indeed it did, as the Rangers hit three more home runs in a six-run eighth inning, giving them six on the night, along with 17 hits.

"One good at-bat can get you going, and we obviously had a bunch of good at-bats tonight," Murphy said. "It just snowballs and that's what it seems we've been doing lately."

Especially the center fielder.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.